September 10, 1996
Clowning For the Camera were these men at the entrance to the women’s dressing room at the original Perry Country Club on the shore of Wills Lake. The bath house, with separate dressing rooms for men and women, was one of the first structures built by club members after they leased the property in 1905 from Austin Wills. None of the four men is identified.
Still more light has been shed on the origin of the Perry Golf & Country Club, thanks to several individuals. It came to me by way of Barbara St. Clair, who still holds the distinction of having been the first (and so far, the only) woman president of that club. The information she passed along was written in 1980 by the late Irene Treeman, a lady who witnessed, participated in, remembered and relayed much of the early history of this city. Her notes on the history of the Country Club were compiled originally for a meeting of the Perry Study Club and were read to that group by her daughter, Elizabeth Willems.
So, thanks to all three of those ladies -- Barbara, Irene and Elizabeth for making it possible to reconstruct some of the events that led up to the establishment of our present Country Club. In the following narrative, anything you see in quotation marks is lifted directly from Irene's handwritten account.
Mrs. Treeman traced the beginning of the Perry Country Club back to 1905, just 12 years after the opening of the Cherokee Strip. She asked rhetorically: "Does it seem as remarkable to you as it does to me that after 12 years of that grueling work of turning a pastureland of weeds and grass and jackrabbits and snakes into a town with trees and flowers and houses and schools and churches and a square with many wooden and some stone buildings on it and a post office, and a courthouse and a jail in the middle of the square -- a nice, commodious and comfortable stone jail -- and a fire department and a police department -- all of these things and many more, which took a tremendous effort in the short period of 12 years -- and yet some people had the desire and the get-up-and-go to start a Country Club?"
"It was like, this. The winter of 1904-05 was very severe, similar to the one we had in 1978. Lots of deep snow and then a sleet which melted a bit and froze over, and the boys in our neighborhood were skating all over on ice skates. Sledding and coasting were fine, too. One of the favorite courting places was out east of Perry ... Perhaps when you have been driving east out to (Grace Hill) cemetery ... you have glanced to the north and have noticed a pond, usually a red-looking pond... Near the pond and west of it was the highest spot close around Perry. It was called 'Lover's Peak.' Why? I think I was too young to know.
"From the top of Lover's Peak venturesome boys could coast straight down. They went lickety-split downhill and then could slide clear over to where the Dolezal house is (west side of Leo Park) ... It wasn't long until the coasting and skating were enjoyed not only in the daytime by youngsters, but also at night by grownups ... When spring came, some of the adults thought, 'If we had such a good time out there in the winter, why can't we have as good a time in the summer?' And that is how the idea of a Country Club was born."
Irene related that in 1905 a group of adults obtained a 15-year lease on the lake and adjacent property from Austin Wills, who had purchased it after the turn of the century from a Mr. Walker. It was called Wills Lake, and the old reddish pond is still there. Memberships in the new Country Club were sold, but apparently no record exists to show the price of membership. Irene believed they sold for about $100 a year. One membership included the entire family.
One of the first projects in development of the area was leveling of the hill just south of the lake. A pavilion was built, consisting primarily of a good floor and a roof with a wide overhang. It was about 75' x 100' in size. Benches were built around the west, south and east sides, and a stationary table was built in front of the west side benches. Movable tables were built to be used on the other sides as needed. A piano stood on the southeast corner. The entire north side was left open for each access. Steps were built down the hill to the edge of the lake. A boat house was built next, extending out over the water. Several members had row boats tied up there.
A bath house with separate dressing facilities for men and women was built adjoining the boat house. The showers were considered essential because of the lake's red water. A wide walk was built around the bath house. On the north side at the west end, steps led down into the water, and at the other end were diving boards. On the east sidewalk were a high and a low slide. The south walk extended to the east for about 150 feet at the water's edge. On the hillside, benches were built, and next to the lake, a banister. At the far end of this walk steps descended for a boat landing. Skimming over the lake surface in a row boat was a very popular diversion, Irene related.
"One of the happiest arrangements at the club was a ‘pitch-in supper night,’ on Thursday I am sure," she wrote. "This was for all members and their families. I well remember my mother cooking (frying) not one but three chickens on hot summer afternoons, and on the tables were mountains of potato salad, slaw, sliced tomatoes, deviled eggs, pies and cakes, and often several freezers of homemade ice cream. After supper, nearly everyone danced. Those who didn't care to dance sat down by the lake and cooled off. We danced the Virginia Reel, children and everybody. Someone would play a jig tune on the piano, or we would start up the old Victrola with a funnel and records. Mr. W. H. Kirchner called the Virginia Reel. If some wanted to square dance, they did. Then everyone, those learning to dance, old dancers, young dancers, waltzed and two-stepped until time to go home.
More of Irene Treeman's Country Club recollections in the next Northwest Corner.